To put it another way, not everyone wants, or should want, to be CEO. There are many ways to live a good life. Many people with worthy talents are nonetheless temperamentally unsuited to corporate leadership (I know I am) and quite reasonably seek professional fulfillment and earned success in other ways. Corporate leadership confers daunting responsibilities which many people feel themselves incapable of shouldering. They can make contributions in other ways. Which is a good thing. Only an infinitesimal number of individuals in any generation can achieve the kind of corporate success Sheryl Sandberg has. If everyone was ambitious to do so, almost everyone would be frustrated.
A related point is made by Bloomberg’s indefatigable blogger Megan McArdle in a recent blogpost entitled Women Who Opt Out Have to Make Harsh Choices. The title is unfortunate because McArdle’s point, as I read her, is that we all, men as well as women, have to make harsh choices. Life is finite. We have only a certain number of hours on earth. As she puts it, “life is composed of tradeoffs. There are not enough hours in the day to have the marriage, the parenting experience, and the careers that we would like to have, so we have to choose what to focus on. The ‘Opt-Out Revolutionaries’ seem unpleasantly surprised to discover that these things are actual choices, with real consequences.” Women, she argues, used to have no choice in most cases but to follow what some have labeled “the mommy track.” Now they have more choices, but there are also tradeoffs. Take off time from your job to raise children, and you won’t rise as far when you reenter the work force. You get something, you lose something.